Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef: A Sephardic Hero in Our Time

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef is the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel. Yesterday, he met with the leading Islamic leader in the West Bank. The purpose of their meeting, which was held in the residence of Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin, was to issue a joint statement in condemnation of political violence perpetrated in the name of religion and God.

During the meeting, the Chief Rabbi made the following statement: “We lived together in peace seven decades ago and also a century ago, and we need to return to live together in peace again.”

The Chief Rabbi also mentioned that his father of blessed memory, Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, was at one point Chief Rabbi of Egypt, and that his father used to meet on a regular basis with Egypt’s King Farouk, and with other Egyptian religious leaders. Together they discussed scriptural texts. Moreover, the Chief Rabbi was proud to reiterate that it was his father, Rabbi Ovadiah, who was the first leading rabbinic authority who issued a Halachic decree that it is permissible to pursue a territorial compromise for the sake of true and enduring peace.

The current Chief Rabbi also issued a statement condemning what he called the “small Holocaust” taking place in Aleppo Syria. He deplored the starvation of babies and the indiscriminate killings of hundreds of thousands, as well as the besieging of an entire city, which leaves its inhabitants without food and water for days on end. “We who underwent genocide seven decades ago cannot remain silent,” stated the Chief Rabbi.

In this context, the Rabbi beautifully quoted the rabbinic midrash “Haviv Adam She nivra be tzelem” (Humanity is favored on High, because it was created in the Divine image). “The Midrash doesn’t say that Jews are created in G-d’s image, or that Muslims are created in G-d’s image, rather – it states that humanity at large is created in G-d’s image.”

Chief Rabbi Yosef makes me a prouder Jew, and a more hopeful human being. His benign and enlightened temperament and approach is representative of the Sephardic tradition, which seeks the golden path of moderation and accommodation, rather than the dogmatic route of extremism and militant rigidity. In that respect, Rabbi Yosef follows in the footsteps of the first Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Uziel, who was also well-known for his steadfast commitment to religious humanism, and always made sure that his Halachic decisions were in congruence with universal human dignity and morality. In an age of religious fanaticism, the moral and compassionate voice of the Sephardic tradition is more vital and desperately needed than ever before. We need it, the Middle-East needs it, the whole world needs it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sessler

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